10 Things NOT to Say to a Woman in Labor
Updated: Apr 2, 2021
This one is for the birth partners and other trusted people who have been welcomed to attend a birth, so to all of you pregnant people out there: print this out, stick it in your partner’s lunch box, tape it to their rearview mirror, send it to them via carrier pigeon or click “share,” because there are people out there who need to see this, and your birth partner might be one of them. I recently read an article about a woman who divorced her husband because he “shushed” her during labor. The divorce came a whole year later, and I’m sure there was a lot more to it than just that, but the fact remains that how a person is treated during labor is important and sticks with them for life. Here is my list of top 10 things NOT to say to a mom during labor, childbirth, or immediately after giving birth unless you have discussed it with them prior, and they have indicated otherwise.
“Can I go in to work for a little while?” When labor isn’t progressing as quickly as you think it should, it can be easy to start thinking about all of the things you would normally be doing at the moment. You’re a very important person with important things to do, and we get that, but right now your work is not the most important task at hand, so call the office and let them know that you won’t be in today, delegate your work, and make sure the birthing person knows they are your top priority.
“You stink” Sometimes the smell of a birthing person’s breath, feet, arm pits, etc. might not be the best. Think of giving birth like running a marathon; very few people are going to end up on the other side of it smelling good, and the people in the room are just going to need to accept that.
“I’m hungry” Often when a person is in labor, they have food restrictions just in case there is a need for emergency surgery, which can lead to a very “hangry” situation, so the best bet is to keep any food related comments to yourself. That means no musing to yourself loudly that you’re hungry, no eating a delicious juicy cheeseburger in front of them, and when you come back from the cafeteria, don’t talk about how amazing the pizza is.
“Don’t (insert anything the birthing person doesn’t have complete control over here)” Don’t be so loud. Don’t let your blood pressure get any higher. Don’t throw up. Don’t move. Don’t let the baby come out. There are a lot of things that a person usually has control over, that they don’t have control over during labor, and telling them not to do something that they can’t control is only going to breed frustration.
“That one didn’t look so bad!" Unless the birthing person has specifically asked for a play by play of the contraction monitor, a running commentary may not be appreciated. “Whoa! That was a big one!” and the like, also fall under this category.
“Git-R-Done!” I’m just going to leave this here and say that your Larry the Cable Guy quotes have no place in the birthing suite.
“My back is sore” You’re probably going to end up with some minor aches and pains throughout this whole process, whether it’s a sore back due to sitting in the same position next to the bed for a long time, cramped hands from hours of foot rubs, or a headache from the lack of sleep. Make sure you pack a pain reliever of your choice in your overnight bag for yourself, and then remind yourself that no amount of that pain reliever that you packed in your bag could in any way touch the discomfort that your birthing partner is experiencing.
“You pooped on the table” There is a good chance that there is going to be some poop involved during the pushing process. The professionals in the room are very discreet and will simply whisk it away and replace the disposable pad. The birthing person will likely not even realize that they did it, so you do not want to be the one that calls attention to it or makes a big deal about it.
“The baby’s not coming yet” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a birthing person say that they told their partner or care provider that the baby is coming and they were told that they were wrong because they hadn’t been in labor long enough or because they had just been checked and weren’t dilated enough. The last part of labor can go very quickly for some, and an announcement of “the baby is coming” should always be taken very seriously by everybody involved.
“It doesn’t look good down there” The last thing that a new parent needs to be concerned about when they are meeting their sweet newborn for the very first time, is what the spot that their baby came out of looks like afterward. The healthcare providers in the room will make sure to address this and the care of that area at the proper time.
If you are a birth partner reading this, I can already tell that you care deeply about your responsibilities as a comforter and supporter. When a person that you care about is in pain or discomfort, it can be hard to know what to say. Asking “what can I do to help?” or affirming them with something like “I’m amazed at how strong you are” can be good choices, but sometimes, it can be best not to say anything at all, and just hold space for them as they draw strength from within. When choosing your words and actions during this very sensitive time, be mindful, respectful, and kind. Keep an eye out for my next blog entry, coming soon: 10 Good Things to Say to a Mom During Labor.